If you think the fresh, local and sustainable movement has only taken hold in Washington D.C. in the past few years, you are off by a few years… two hundred to be precise.
One D.C. institution has spent every day over the past two centuries providing this city, as well as the surrounding area, with some of the freshest, locally-sourced food you can find anywhere in town.
And odds are, you’ve missed it numerous times, speeding past it on the freeway, unaware that below you is a spot that should be a mainstay of any local. At the end of the inlet to the Tidal Basin, right along Maine Avenue in Southwest, DC, nestled almost directly under the end of the 14th Street Bridge, the Maine Avenue Fish Market has been selling seafood caught around these waters since 1805.
It’s the oldest continuously operating seafood market in America and has never been closed, not even for a day. Back when it opened, it was one of the only options in town. Now, it’s simply the best spot for locally caught seafood, crabs and oysters straight from the Chesapeake Bay, as well as an array of varied and unique products, from octopus to shark.
The market is completely open-air, but visitors can still feel dwarfed by the soaring marquees of the numerous shops. A walk around the Maine Avenue institution harkens back to much older days, with merchants hawking their wares to passersby.
Almost all the market’s shops are recessed in the ground, so walking by the stores, at your feet, is an almost unlimited expanse of seafood.
This being the summer, the first thing you’ll notice is an abundance of crabs. Everywhere you turn, fresh Chesapeake blue crabs are crawling over each other, waiting to be plucked up by the bushel.
The largest of the shops in the markets, with the biggest sign that draws you in, is Captain White’s Seafood City. Don’t let the kitschy name fool you. They have an excellent and diverse selection with perfect prices. And it’s massive. Captain White takes up one whole length of the three-sided market.
There you’ll be greeted by some obscure finds. Salmon heads for seafood stock. Squid to try your hand at calamari. But there’s also the fresh and typical. Bushels of crabs run as little as ten dollars. Fresh shrimp is sold by the pound. And lobster is imported the same day from Maine.
Among the whole fish, you’ll find croaker, plucked straight from the Bay, as well as red snapper and grouper.
At every storefront, you’ll find extremely gregarious, knowledgeable and engaging staffs. They are happy to answer any questions, and will steer you in the direction of what’s freshest and tastiest.
But if buying whole fish and taking it home doesn’t allure you, the Maine Avenue Fish Market has whole shops dedicated to cooked food.
Jessie’s Cooked Seafood, which is immediately on the left when you enter, offers crabs already steamed and doused in Old Bay that you can purchase by the bushel and half bushel. Also offered are massive cooked Alaskan King Crab legs, as well as a number of other product.
Every shop at the market is open 365 days a year. The biggest crowds are on weekends, but that’s also when the shops bringing in their biggest hauls.
Which is why, any day of the week, when you want to have a seafood feast, skip the local grocery store, and instead take a trip to the Southwest Waterfront, home to one of Washington, D.C’s first local businesses.